The Spark and the Drive by Wayne Harrison

The Spark and the DriveA superb debut novel! Harrison demonstrates an enviable mastery of his craft. Although he uses many automotive terms with which not all readers may be familiar, they function as a kind of background music to the story. The characters are made very real, their emotions ebbing and flowing as they engage with one another. The writing is as finely-tuned as the most intricate car engine. I look forward to his next novel.

Reviewed by Charleynne

The Cheetah Chase by Karin McQuillan

The Cheetah ChaseIf you like mysteries, if you like tales of Africa and African wildlife, you will like this book and the author’s two others:  Deadly Safari and Elephants’ Graveyard.  The narrator, Jazz Jasper, owns and runs Jazz Jasper Safaris in Kenya.   She’s about to go broke when her friend Nick Hunter is murdered in the most horrible and unlikely way:  the lethal sting of a scorpion not native to Kenya.  Nick and his wife are dedicated conservationists who run a cheetah preserve, and Jazz must battle ignorance, greed, and finally, the insanity of another friend to find the killer and stop the threat to more of Africa’s endangered species.

I hope she writes more mysteries like these!

Reviewed by Charleynne

Ragnarok: The End of the Gods by A. S. Byatt

A beautiful, darkly powerful retelling of the saga of the old Norse gods and monsters and how their world (and ours) ended (or will end). The frame tale stars a young girl (“the thin child”) who is sent to the country from London during the Blitz of World War II. Given a book, Asgard and the Gods, she immerses herself in the stories, finding them far more satisfying than the pallid, rather anemic tales of “gentle Jesus, meek and mild” told to her in Sunday school. The tragedy of the old gods is that they can die nobly but cannot figure out how to save the world. A thoughtful epilogue on the subject of myth closes the book.

Reviewed by Charleynne

Orders from Berlin by Simon Tolkien

Orders from BerlinA genuine page-turning thriller set in Nazi Germany.  Hitler wants Winston Churchill assassinated, and there’s a secret agent in England, known as “D” and placed in the highest level of power, who can do it.  He just has to stop the three people who have discovered who he is.  One he kills.  The other two may not be able to get to him in time.

Simon Tolkien has obviously inherited his writing talent from J. R. R., his grandfather.

Reviewed by Charleynne

The Thirteen Hallows by Michael Scott & Colette Freedman

The best thing about this book is the cover.  The plot is ridiculous, the characters are stock, and I didn’t really know what to make of Jesus, who appears as a kind of Viking-dude of thousands of years ago.  I’m surprised that Tor/Tom Doherty Associates even put this book on the market, but maybe other people will buy it for the cover art.

Reviewed by Charleynne

Lone Wolf: a novel by Jodi Picoult

This is the most sensitive depiction of life in a wolf pack that I have ever read.  Add the unlikely combination of the subject of organ transplants and you have an exceptionally interesting novel, one that has to raise your awareness of the importance of wolves, of the preciousness of life, and of what happens when a dreaded sacrifice is made.

Reviewed by Charleynne

The Spinoza Problem: a novel by Irvin D. Yalom

It was hard to imagine how a novel devoted to long sections of philosophical and theological discussion could be absolutely riveting, but it is.  The contrast between the 17th-century genius philosopher Spinoza and the 20th-century Nazi Alfred Rosenberg is chilling.  A psychiatrist, the author imagines in detail how his psychiatrist-character would probe the mind of Rosenberg, who sought for most of his adult life to find why his hero, Goethe, admired the Jewish Spinoza.

Reviewed by Charleynne

Murder at the Lanterne Rouge by Cara Black

I am always intrigued by private investigator Aimee Leduc’s adventures in obscure corners of Paris where the average tourist doesn’t tour.  This time Aimee and her business partner, Rene, are in Chinatown to meet Rene’s girlfriend, Meizi–who disappears without explanation.  Then the body of a young scientist, shrink-wrapped in plastic is found in an alley.  Aimee has to tie all the ends together, and that includes a mysterious alchemical formula plus still another trail that may lead to her mother, who abandoned her years ago.

Reviewed by Charleynne

Istanbul Passage: a novel by Joseph Kanon

Reminiscent of John Le Carre, this novel takes us to the seamy side of post-World War II:  the Cold War.  Spies and their intricate layers of deception, lovers betrayed and lovers lost ,the terrible aftermath of the Holocaust, all take place in and around the ancient city of Istanbul, Turkey, in 1945. 

Leon Bauer, an American businessman who speaks Turkish, has one last espionage assignment before leaving the city — but it goes horribly wrong.

The writer’s style is staccato, with short sentences often reading like the rat-a-tat of a machine gun.

Reviewed by Charleynne

Cutting for Stone: a novel by Abraham Verghese

This is one of the finest novels I have ever read.  The author’s love of medicine shines on every page, as does his understanding of Ethiopia, India, and Africa in general.  He also understands, at a profound level, the role of love in healing the body.

Reviewed by Charleynne